Justin Fields started all 22 games Ohio State played the last two seasons and led the team to two Big Ten titles and two College Football Playoff appearances. His college career ended in January when the Buckeyes lost 52-24 to Alabama in the College Football Playoff National Championship.
Now Fields is spending his time working out and throwing against air in extremely tight, sleeveless shirts with the latest in moisture-wicking technology, all while NFL draft wonks try to figure out reasons to believe he shouldn't be drafted ahead of players like Mac Jones and Zach Wilson.
But while all that goes on, there's a bigger question in Columbus, Ohio.
Who will replace Fields on the Buckeyes in 2021?
Well, with Ohio State wrapping up its spring practice with the annual spring game on Saturday, now is as good a time as any to catch you up on everything you want to know about Ohio State's quarterback battle. Let's start with the basics.
Who are the candidates?
That's an excellent question, and I'm glad you asked because it'll make this process a lot simpler. The three quarterbacks seen as the candidates to win the starting job are C.J. Stroud, Jack Miller and Kyle McCord. All three were highly rated recruits coming out of high school.
Both Stroud and Miller were members of Ohio State's 2020 recruiting class, and both were rated as four-star prospects. Stroud hails from Rancho Cucamonga, California, which is an enjoyable name to say. Go ahead, say it again. Rancho Cucamonga. Anyway, Stroud was the No. 2 pro-style (whatever that even means anymore) QB in the class and the No. 42 player overall.
Miller is from Scottsdale, Arizona, which isn't nearly as fun to say. He was the No. 13 pro-style QB and ranked as the No. 334 prospect in the country, so Stroud had the higher pedigree coming out of high school. Both were members of the team during the 2020 season and spent the year watching Fields being awesome while thinking to themselves, "I'm gonna be that awesome too."
Then there's McCord, who was the highest-rated of the three. McCord is a member of Ohio State's latest 2021 class and enrolled early. He's a five-star prospect from Philadelphia, and he was rated the No. 3 pro-style QB and No. 27 prospect overall.
All three have the potential to be outstanding college quarterbacks. All three are playing in an offense that has proven to be very QB friendly, as Ryan Day's last two starters went on to become first-round NFL Draft picks (or, at least, I assume Fields will unless the NFL turns the stupid up to 11).
Who is the favorite?
Stroud has always been seen as the favorite. While Day isn't tipping his hand, Stroud has also been taking the first snaps throughout spring practice. That said, he's not dominating the snaps in a way that shows he's the clear-cut choice. Both Miller and McCord are getting time with the projected starters, and both are getting a chance to show off.
Still, everybody you talk to has always felt Stroud is the one to beat, and there hasn't been anything this spring that makes you believe otherwise.
OK then, so is this even a real competition?
Well, that depends on who you ask. As I said, Day is mum, but there are arguments to be made on both sides. If you ask somebody who is a bit more trusting, they'll tell you it's a real competition. Even if Stroud's been up first, both Miller and McCord continue to get a good number of reps, and if Day were truly leaning toward Stroud, he'd probably want to get him more.
If you ask somebody who is more of a skeptic, they'd probably tell you something along the lines of "it's Stroud's job, and the only reason Miller and McCord are getting as many reps as they are is that Day wants to keep everybody happy." This is the age of the transfer portal, after all. And the deadline to enter the portal and be eligible for the 2021 season is May 1, or a couple of weeks from now, which not too long after spring practice ends and players have a better idea of where they stand.
Will Day name a starter after the spring game?
I don't expect him to. If Day names any of them the starter, that could only encourage one or both of the others to enter the portal and look for other opportunities. Plus, it's still only April! A lot can happen between now and the season-opener against Minnesota on Sept. 2. If Day named Stroud starter now, causing Jack Miller to transfer, what if Stroud got hurt during camp? I'm not sure Day or the Buckeyes want to hand the reins to a true freshman if they don't have to.
Plus, if there's any program that can tell you how beneficial it is to have three capable QBs on the roster, it's Ohio State. The Buckeyes won a national title in 2014 with their third-string QB, Cardale Jones.
Will the new starter be better than Justin Fields?
Maybe? It seems crazy to think it's possible given how good Field was, but do you think Clemson fans ever thought they'd see somebody like Deshaun Watson again? Because then Trevor Lawrence came along. And if you ask Alabama fans, some will tell you that Mac Jones was better than Tua Tagovailoa, whom many believe was better than Jalen Hurts.
That's the thing about quarterbacks at the college level these days. They keep getting better, as do the offenses they're placed into. Any one of these three candidates in Columbus can not only win the starting job but go on to have a career better than Fields.
That's part of what makes this entire competition exciting.